THERE THEY sat, some 20 of Anne Arundel County's best students, to discuss affirmative action. The nearly all-white group -- there was a girl whose parents were white and Asian -- was open-minded and honest, offering solutions and alternatives.
One young man said that even if it was abolished, affirmative action had set a standard that employers would still follow. They would hire minorities because they would not want a return of quotas. Another said not to totally trash affirmative action but revise it. Two others said abolish affirmative action but have stringent checks on employers.
Their solutions were a refreshing change from the conservatives who -- based on some curious reasoning -- would abolish affirmative action programs. Some of the more egregious justifications, in ascending order of weirdness, are:
* Affirmative action stigmatizes those it was meant to help. Funny. I thought those folks already were stigmatized. And held in contempt. And discriminated against. I thought that's what made affirmative action necessary in the first place.
* Affirmative action causes resentment against blacks. Compared to what? The tenderness and love shown to us during those idyllic days of Jim Crow and lynching?
* Affirmative action is wrong because it penalizes white males for past discrimination. Even Newt Gingrich doesn't believe racism and discrimination against minorities are things of the past. Those who do have simply spent too much time in an alternative reality of their own making.
* Affirmative action is unfair. No kidding. If this were a fair world, affirmative action wouldn't even be an issue. But if affirmative action is unfair, then that's the way I want it. In this world, fairness isn't possible, so I've decided we should settle for an equal distribution of unfairness. And if women and minorities have been discriminated against -- and are still being discriminated against -- then why shouldn't white guys have their turn?
You see, it's all about everybody "taking their turn in the barrel." That term comes from an old joke. I can't repeat it here, not if The Sun is going to maintain any notions of remaining a family newspaper. But I'll summarize the essence of the joke by saying that being in the barrel is a notably unpleasant experience. The gist -- indeed the very moral -- of the joke is that everyone gets a turn in the barrel. The misery is spread around.
As regards racial discrimination in America, if everyone is discriminated against, it should have the same effect as no one being discriminated against. If affirmative action discriminates against white males, I say so be it.
There, isn't that a refreshing change from the torrent of gibberish and lies coming from the conservative wing in America about why they'd like to eighty-six affirmative action? To hear them tell it, they have nothing but noble motives. They simply want fairness for white males and a color-blind society. Yessiree, end affirmative action today, and I'll be able to successfully hail a cab tomorrow, to hear conservatives tell it.
Mind you, they say this while shaking "The Bell Curve" -- that scurrilous treatise on black intellectual inferiority -- under our noses. They must figure our IQs are too low to notice the obvious contradiction.
Conservatives also must figure that black folks are too stupid to remember recent history. Without appointing myself spokesman for an entire ethnic group, I can safely assert that black people know it was conservatives who fought tooth and nail against the civil rights legislation that they now use to justify their stand against affirmative action. They should excuse us if we refuse to believe them when they try to seize the moral high ground in the affirmative action debate by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s desire to live in a country where people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, because we also know that conservatives -- with a few notable exceptions despised King.
The movement to end affirmative comes as no surprise to me. There is nothing in the history of African-Americans to indicate that the good feelings of the civil rights era that spawned affirmative action would last forever. Black leaders who are now whining about the impending demise of affirmative action should be chastised for not planning what to do when, not if, it ended. They simply didn't study their history.
I just want conservatives to say what they truly want. And, for that matter, don't want. And what white males don't want is to take their turn in the barrel. I want Robert Dole, Phil Gramm, Pete Wilson and the horde of other conservatives railing against affirmative action to hold a news conference and tell America the truth. They should say something like this:
"You minorities and womenfolk just don't get it. We're white. We're men. We don't get in the barrel. Ever."
They won't, of course. Which is why I'm putting my faith in young people like those Anne Arundel County students. It is they who can start the dialogue between the races to resolve the affirmative action dilemma. There was, of course, one problem. Black students were invited but opted not to show. That makes it kind of hard for a dialogue to take place.
Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.